by David Phelps

“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” -- Mother Teresa

November, 2003

In a recent installment of the “B.C.” comic strip, a man is crawling across a desert. There are cacti and mountains in the background. Birds -- possibly vultures -- are in the sky. The man is praying, “Lord, if you love me, give me a sign.” On the other side of a rock is another rock with the words “Jesus saves.” Presumably, the man will find the rock with the inscription and this will be his “sign.” However, he will still be thirsty, with no water in sight, and he will still be hot, with no shade to be found. The strip’s creator, Johnny Hart, is well known as a Christian, but I’m not sure what he meant by this cartoon. Slogans will not help the man, no matter how true or well intentioned they might be. Words will not quench his thirst, nor cool his body. Unless Jesus is waiting over the next sand dune with a Bedouin tent and a cool drink, the man will not be saved from his present predicament.

When Jesus healed the paralyzed man in Nazareth (Matt. 9:1-8), he not only forgave his sins, he also gave the man back the ability to walk. The Psalmist declared that God is the one “. . . who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases.” (Psa. 103:3 NIV). This bold statement of faith describes a God who cares for our bodily afflictions as well as our spiritual needs. Jesus preached the good news to the people of his day but he also ministered to their physical needs (Matt. 11:5). They were sick in both soul and body, and so are we, and so is everyone around us. Isaiah wrote, “. . . by his wounds we are healed.” (Isa. 53:5b, 1 Pet. 2:24b NIV). Through his suffering, death, and resurrection, Christ has healed our spiritual and physical afflictions.

Jesus sent his disciples out “. . . to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.” (Luke 9:2b NIV). To preach and to heal: these are the two sides of our own commission as disciples. We cannot simply do one or the other. Either by itself is pointless. We do not live in a solely spiritual world but in a physical world. Failure to minister to a person’s physical needs -- to the whole person -- might as well be a failure to minister at all. “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?” (Jas. 2:15-16 NIV). True discipleship requires ministering to both physical and spiritual needs. “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘. . . For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,’” (Matt. 25:34a, 35 NIV). When we show compassion and mercy to “the least of these,” we show it to Christ.

Jesus told the people, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” (John 7:37b-38 NIV). Whatever we are thirsting for, Jesus can quench our thirst. Whether we’re thirsty for physical water or for the “living water” of salvation, he can satisfy our needs. He may not take us out of our situation but he will help us to endure it (2 Cor. 12:8-10). Perhaps that’s the point of the “B.C.” cartoon: The man will see the “Jesus saves” sign, and find the strength and encouragement to reach shade and water.

Someone you know is thirsty, wandering in a desert of sin and affliction. He or she needs shade, comfort, and rest. Someone you know needs “living water.” Someone is looking for a sign of God’s love. You or I can be that sign. We can show him or her that Jesus saves, cares, and heals.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’” (Matt. 25:37-40 NIV.)

Copyright © 2003 by David Phelps